RT’s November Q+A!

John Schmitt - How did you get introduced to the Dylan songs you did early on? Seems like some of them were pre-Basement Tapes.

I did Jack Of Diamonds in my school band, around 1965. Our drummer, Nick Jones, was the son of Melody Maker jazz critic Max Jones, and Nick used to get some of the review 45s that got sent in to the paper. Dylan co-wrote the song with Ben Carruthers, an actor/singer who starred in the BBC TV play the song was used in. It got a new life with Fairport.

Ashley was always looking for the musical road less travelled. I’ll Keep It With Mine was a Judy Collins B side. Percy’s Song was in a Joan Baez song book – she sings a verse of it in Don’t Look Back. We went to Dylan’s UK publisher, and asked if they had any unrecorded songs kicking around, and that was the Basement Tapes.

Mike Parfitt - I personally love your songs and appreciate what you’ve said about your “Geordie” accent sounding right for the songs… it does. But dont you sometimes just fancy singing in your real accent or at least a normal voice? I’m from Muswell Hill too and know the house at Fairport well – used to work opposite. Nobody round there speaks or sings like you.

I’m basically a cockney, with a few other remnants. Other things can sneak in when you’re singing – if you learn a traditional song from a Scot/Irish/Mancunian/whatever singer, you might take on some of their inflection as well. But geordie?? You’re confusing me with Sting. People from Muswell Hill talk like they’re in a Richard Curtis film.

Frankie Griffin - Tell us about the recording of The Grizzly Man soundtrack.The documentary is excellent.

Charles Benner - How did you approach writing the soundtrack for Werner Herzog’s film “Grizzly Man”? Herzog’s narratives are often crafted through the editing process, your work was stellar and fit the mood of the film.

Al Mather I recently re watched In The Edges (which I personally enjoyed as much as Grizzly Man itself) and was surprised seeing the recording session was a mere 2 days. It all seemed so effortless, and the results so organic to the film. A tribute to the players, and the vision and genius of Werner Herzog in putting it together. He certainly got huge value from his choices. Have you been you approached to score more documentaries or film since Grizzly Man/In The Edges was released?

It is unusual to improvise soundtracks. In this instance, I feel it worked very well. It was a wonderful project to contribute to – such powerful ideas and imagery. I wouldn’t say it was effortless, but it was focused. There really wasn’t time to be distracted. I’ve done a couple more scores for the same producer (Erik Nelson).

Patrick John Gillam - Your compositions reflect the wit and balance of The Songbook – the great songs of Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, et al. (By “balance” I mean equal proportions of lyrical intelligence, melodic charm, and rhythmic excitement.) Would you riff a bit on the relationship of the Songbook with the folk tradition that you also reflect? And would you name five or 10 standards you most admire? Thanks kindly.

Folk music, and rock music too, are simple music forms. They rarely pretend to more than simple harmony and melody. What you call the Songbook, which is what I call Standards, or Tin Pan Alley, is usually more sophisticated, and often more sentimental – it was music for a different age. That doesn’t mean it isn’t great, and it doesn’t mean I don’t love it. The world changed around 1959, after which show tunes and standards lacked some previous dimension, and younger people wanted music that was more primitive and direct. Rodgers and Hammerstein went from Oklahoma to The Sound Of Music – I consider that a massive shift. From today’s perspective, the standard repertoire seems like some of the greatest popular music ever written. It occasionally took a great singer like Sinatra or Billie Holliday to get real emotion or swing from unpromising material, and we might consider some of the great lyricists like Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer to be great technicians, but rather emotionally uninvolved compared with the writers at Motown and Stax. Anyway, here’s a few favourites:

Where Or When
Thanks For The Memory
You Took Advantage Of Me
I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry
Cheek To Cheek
Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
The Best Is Yet To Come

Steve Sheldon - What chance an England victory in the Ashes next year?

I think pretty good. Australia may not be as good as people think, and England may not be as bad as people think. Mitchell Johnson has been the difference, supported by the excellent Ryan Harris. Harris has retired, and Johnson can be blunted and discouraged. Aussie batting is good, but nothing very special. England have blooded some very good, mentally unscarred young players, and if they can figure out their third and fourth seamers, they are in with a chance. Moeen Ali could be a big factor – lots of Aussie dismissals in Dubai from the off-spinner delivery that goes straight on.

Mikemann McMahon - Do you experiment with different tunings while composing? If so, has that experimentation taken a song in a different direction?

Yes and yes. Changing tuning when you’re writing on guitar is like going to another instrument like mandolin or piano – the rules change, the sound changes, and you fingers don’t fall into predictable patterns. I wrote a song called Stony Ground, on the Electric album, initially in straight tuning, but was getting nowhere, so switched to DADGAD, and the song revealed itself. I then went back to straight tuning to record it.

Mark Howard - Do you follow football? What do you make of Manchester United’s form since Sir Alex left the club? And Do you think that Jose Mourinho would have been good for United or is he better at Chelsea? Have you any plans to tour Germany?

Van Gaal says 3 years, and he could be right. United have started dumping players, and a few more must surely go – Smalling, Rafael, Anderson and Valencia spring to mind. Ferguson’s brilliance was masking a club in decline. Mourinho was probably smart enough to see the writing on the wall. Besides, I truly believe he loves Chelsea.

Maybe Germany in summer 2015?

John C. Beisheim - Any chance the Thompson Family Album could bring about a Thompson Family Tour?

Tough to put a tour together with all those different careers going on. We are doing showcases in London and New York.

Karen Curtis are you bring your electric trio to the Boston area soon?

Next year.

Joe Wolverson - Which guitar do you wish you hadn’t sold/lost/sat on accidentally?

I had a Gibson 1955 Gold Top Les Paul, which I sold to John Martyn, which was used on a bunch of Fairport albums. (He had it stolen almost immediately). And a couple of Gibson 120Ts.

Clive Baugh - In the spirit of positive self-criticism – which of your albums do you consider the worst? Or put it this way – which album disappointed you the most in the way it turned out?

It’s a tight race between Sunnyvista and First Light. Please don’t ask me the reasons, it’s too depressing to get into all that.

Sheri L. Williamson - I second Charlie Gardner’s comment about what great birds you’ve seen recently (or ever). Also, when are you coming back to Arizona, and would you consider joining us for a cook’s tour of a couple of our favorite birding spots?

Always up for a birding trip, time permitting, and ‘subject to the requirements of the service.’ I’ve had little time lately, but did get out to see a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker – unusual in Los Angeles. Probably the rarest birds I’ve seen are island endemics – not uncommon where they live, but sometimes a haul to get to, like the Orange Fruit Dove, on certain Fijian islands. Great Green Macaws are down to a couple of hundred pairs in Costa Rica.

Nora Streed - ‘A Heart Needs a Home’ is one of my favorite songs, by you or by anybody, but it contains an offensive racial slur, so I avoided playing it on the radio back when I did that sort of thing (in Minneapolis and northern Minnesota, in the 1980s and 1990s). I feel certain that you did not intend to insult indigenous Americans with your use of the phrase “Indian givers,” but rather to express a certain kind of longing for a thing once possessed but now gone – taken away by the once-beloved one who had given it. I have no wish to open the whole PC/thought police can of worms here, but I feel strongly about this. It’s likely that the phrase doesn’t carry this baggage in the UK, and maybe not even in LA, nowadays, but in the Midwestern US it has always been considered a racially-based insult — since my childhood in the 1960s at least. It’s a fairly common insult among mean children — and one I personally would have been punished for using. It perpetuates false and offensive stereotypes about indigenous/First Nations people.

So my question, given the above, is would you consider changing the lyric in future performances?

I certainly did not intend a racial insult. I actually thought the phrase referred to the US government’s promises to the tribes which it never kept. I’ll look at the song again, and see if I can come up with a better line.

Chris Kane - Any chance of you working with Clive Gregson and Christine Collister again ? Many consider your touring group that they were a part of was one of the best bands you ever had.

I do things with Christine from time to time, still one of my favourite singers, and I’m glad you appreciate her too. I don’t think Clive and Christine would work together again.

Jonathan Hecht - Now that you have done the Acoustic Classics record, can you consider doing an Acoustic Rarities one? I’d be happy to provide a suggested tracklist if needed.

Acoustic Rarities is already part recorded, but may not come out before Acoustic Classics volume 2. Who knew acoustic music could ever be popular? I have my own list of rarities I’d like to get out there, which I hope will at least overlap with yours.

Neil Charles - When do you anticipate releasing the new Trio EP?

Looks like the Trio EP, called Boulevard Variations, will become part of a ‘deluxe’ version of the next studio CD, which we are recording in January.

Bob Dubery - Dear Richard, can you provide some guidance on buying options and payments to the artists? I want artists to make money so they can afford to keep on making music. Word is that streaming doesn’t pay the artist very well. The Eagles manager has said that his clients make more money from one show than they have had from iTunes since the dawn of time, yet the Guardian has published figures showing that iTunes album downloads pay in the same ballpark as physical CD sales. Can you, as a recording musician, offer some insights? PS yes I know that going to gigs is a good way to support musicians, but I live in South Africa and you don’t tour here very often. Neither do Martin Simpson or Loudon Wainwright. (At least I didn’t mention Kevin Pietersen)

I get nothing close to CD payment from iTunes. Maybe the record companies keep most of it? Yes, going to gigs is a good way to support artists. For further thoughts, see below.

Tim Gause - Rosanne Cash recently had a discussion on the negative impact of streaming on her FB page. I subscribe to Spotify and have been turned on to quite a bit of your music on it. I also buy your cd’s as they are released because I want to support my faves in more concrete ways. What are your thoughts on the streaming controversy? Is it making it impossible for musicians to make a living? Who decides what albums of your music are available on Spotify? Quite a bit is there but there are missing items. Have you ever considered creating your own streaming/subscription service along with similar artists to make available your entire output?

I have no control over which of my recordings ends up on Spotify/Pandora, because I don’t own them. I can see how it’s good free publicity, but it definitely eats into revenue that would come from CD sales/paid downloads. It matters less to me (although I hate the principle) than it does to newer, younger artists who could desperately use the income. The current music business model is not sustainable. Something must change, and moves are afoot to achieve a fairer deal for musicians.

Jude Webre - Is the solo guitar intro to Calvary Cross 1) a splice cut into the rest of the song and 2) played on a fretless guitar? A friend and I have been debating this for awhile.

It is spliced onto the front of the song – you can hear the guitar tone change. It’s not fretless, just string-bending, trying to get those Irish pipe inflections.

Donny Fletcher - Did you ever have occasion to play with Keith Moon?

I never did. I was always a fan though – I used to see The Who at the Marquee Club in London, probably in 1965. The first Who album gives some idea of Moon’s tremendous style at the time.

Frankie Griffin - Have you ever played with the late John Martyn.What is your opinion of him as a guitarist and human being?

Great, original acoustic guitarist and distinctive vocalist. I found his electric playing more generic. Fabulous, sweet, gentle human being, destroyed by the demon booze.

Timothy Dronson - The late, great Robert Quine – whose playing at times reminded me of yours – said that his favorite solos of his were the ones where he took outrageous chances and sometimes landed on his feet. Do you share this approach to playing, and are you a fan of Quines playing?

I don’t see much common ground between myself and Robert Quine – he was way more punk than me. I like the approach though. Earl Hines said much the same thing, and you really hear it in his solos.

Julie Grace - I first heard Salford Sunday, in Salford, on a Sunday. How close have your ties been to this Northern City?

Not very. Fairport used to play the Technical College fairly regularly, and the song refers back to those days. These days, we play the Lowry regularly (best acoustics in the Greater Manchester area), and I’m always coming up to the BBC for various things. In fact, I’ll be there in December.

Robert Bruce - Any chance for shows in Japan ?

Please see Japan dates, Feb 25 – 28, 2015, on the Tour page.

Dave Sams - Hey RT – funny this opportunity should come up ! I have been wishing I could ask you this question . What advice do you have to avoid “burn out ” ? How do you keep up your chops and your creativity and still be a Dad and Husband and , maybe a Grandad and a normal human being ?

Forget being a normal human being, that goes out the window. Music can be a selfish occupation, where you have to shut yourself away in order to create. Having said that, I’ve tried to work under any circumstances, teething babies, builders, on the bus/train/bike etc. To avoid burnout, you stop. Or better still, you don’t get to that point. Or if there’s no choice, you hear the music you’re making differently. Claudio Abbado told the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that if they were tired after all the rehearsals and heavy concert schedule, they should play each piece as though they were in a state of ecstasy, and then they would find boundless energy.

Jesse Hochstadt - I and a number of other fans of yours are also fans of Touareg bands like Tinariwen, which combine electric guitars with Arabic influences (I’m no ethnomusicologist, but I think that’s in the right ballpark) that I think have also influenced some of your own music. Are you familiar with any of these bands, and if so, what do you think of them?

Tinawiren are terrific. I had a chance to hear them at the End Of The Road Festival in Wiltshire this summer. Don’t know any other Touareg bands, but there are interesting things like Algerian metal bands out there.

On an unrelated note, who’s your favorite superhero?

Tintin. He’d wipe the floor with all those musclebound imbeciles. With Snowy’s help, of course.

Charlotte Wright - My dream band: You and Clarence White (G) Michele Stodart (B), Connie Kay (D) Steve Winwood and Johnny Johnson (K) Yours?

You can’t just pick your favourite musicians on each instrument and stick them together. At least three people in your all-star band can’t adapt to other musical styles. All-star jazz groups, for instance, usually have too many egos competing. I’m inclined to think that existing bands are already dream bands, because they know how to achieve an end result. I’d nominate The Band, or The Famous Flames, or the Neville Brothers, or the Wrecking Crew, or the MGs, or The Beatles, or the Funk Brothers.

Pearson Brown - I once saw Jimmy Shand play live when I was a wee boy. Did you?

I never did. I did see Bobby McCleod though.

Rod Eyre - Hi Richard. What’s the longest solo you’ve ever played? Which song and when and where was it?

Probably back in 1967, when we did multiple sets at the Speakeasy in London. Sometimes one song would be the whole set (not enough material?), lasting 30 or 40 minutes. Probably quantity rather than quality.

Robert Witt - Being a guitarist of minimal talent myself, I’ve always wondered this ; do you ever have off days , conversely do you ever feel like you are on at other times? If so is there a reason?

I think it can be external or internal. You can feel below par, sluggish, or actually sick, and your performance can reflect this. You can be just plain uninspired, and who can figure that out? Then outside factors can come into play, like gruelling schedule, hideous sound, pathetic audience, etc. Other times, it can be like you’re flying. Very hard to deal with these variables, but one tries to maximise the good stuff.

Celia Mackinnon - Thank you for your recent northeast US tour. I was really struck by the short part the WWI piece you shared. The dissonance and complexity of the music evoked such images and feelings it made ‘The Forgotten War” relatable. How did you get commissioned for such a piece? what was the process you went through to reach the final product? Listening to this brought my own grandfather’s experience closer to me. Mark Twain said history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes with itself. Did writing this help you find the rhymes in your own personal history as a Brit and grandchild of a WWI soldier?

WW1 shaped us all and the world we live in. It’s important to understand the unbelievable sacrifices and hardships that generation went through, and how that influenced the WW2 generation, and how that shaped us. I still know very little about my grandfather’s war. He was a company bugler in the Boer War, then I think Signals Corps in WW1. He was gassed at some point, which affected his ability to work full time for the rest of his life. When I have time, I’ll properly get into the Army records and track him down.

Ned Sneed van Overbeek how did you achieve the effect at 2:55 on “Walking on a Wire” where the attack on the individual notes is taken off? Volume pedal? Timing the notes with the tremolo on the amp?

I think it’s just the rotary speaker effect knocking off the fronts of the notes. Certainly nothing I intended.

Heather Banks - I would like to know if you’d ever consider jamming with my OTHER hero Neil Young. PRETTY PLEASE!!!

What, TWO old hippies that dress badly and play sloppy guitar?

Jim McKelvey - Richard, there was a sighting of Ry Cooder in Nashville recently and wondered if there is any rumors of a Shy Guys Trio (Richard Thompson/David Lindley/Ry Cooder) maybe produced by Buddy Miller getting together for a show or recording?!?

I would feel like a spare you-know-what at a wedding. I’d love to hear David and Ry playing Americana classics, but I’d be superfluous.

Jim McKelvey - Have four sons and one time brought them all on Cayamo so was wondering if you might be bringing any family members to Cayamo 2015?

Not for 2015. We had Kami, James and Teddy 2 years ago. Maybe down the road, if we ask nicely.

Mark A Taylor - Do your songs simply manifest themselves to you or do you make yourself sit and write, inspired or not? Do you find after you’ve written something really good that pleases you, you then struggle mightily for that next idea and, if so, what is your process for moving on to the next idea (or need to find an idea)? I could benefit from your sagely experience and views in this regard. Thanks dude!

Some songs arrive magically all at once – hurrah! Most songs come in bits – a line or two of lyrics, a fragment of tune. If I hit a brick wall on one song, I go to another. If it’s brick walls all the way, I come back the next day, and the next day, until it shapes up. Sometimes it’s good to write anything – any old lyrics to an existing tune – doesn’t have to make sense or be original – and any old tune to existing words, derivative is fine. You’ll find the real lyrics or tune in the process.

Rob Wes Porter - What’s your favorite key?

I like D and G as guitar keys. It’s different on different instruments. Makes a big difference in orchestral music.

Robert Irvine - Where was “King of Bohemia” recorded? When I listen to that song closely, I swear I can hear traffic noises in the background.

I think it was at the Sound Factory in Hollywood. Sometimes traffic noise can sneak onto the reverb plate, but I can’t hear it.

Christine Petersen - More importantly, RT, how did you become a Kings Fan?

His friend, Bob Borgen, who was producer at Fox of the Kings TV broadcast, gave him 2 tickets, so I got dragged along. Gretzky was playing for the Kings, so it was impressive stuff, and I got hooked. Thanks to Bob, I get some wonderful seats from time to time.

Juan Buffalo - Still using Divided by 13 amps? Like them better than Fenders?

I use the Divided by 13 for louder stuff, Headstrong for studio, and Fenders for odds and ends. they all have their place.

Ralph Smith You released 1952 Vincent Black Lightning in 1991, I have been waiting (patiently) 23 years now for you to write a song about my 1975 Triumph Bonneville. Please can you let me know how the lyrics are progressing.

It was going well, until I got stalled on trying to find rhymes for ‘Triumph’ and ‘Bonneville’.

Peter Richards - Who would be the winner in a boxing match between you and Ashley Hutchings?

I think I have the more consistent jab, but Ashley does have that lethal uppercut. If it’s more a no-holds-barred kind of thing, biting ears off, gouging out eyeballs,etc., I might have the edge.

Brian Brown-Hill Is it true that you were considered for replacing Robbie Robertson in The Band in the eighties? Man alive, imagine The Band with Richard Thompson!

I did get approached in the early 80s, but it did feel like an organisation in decline. I was probably too much of a fan.